Beyond the realm of coincidence

man-wearing-black-and-white-stripe-shirt-looking-at-white-212286

“Oh Lord, all my longing is before you; my sighing is not hidden from you.” -Psalm 38:9

Wednesdays of late have been an irritation. To put it in context you have to understand I work open to close on Wednesdays. It makes for a long day, but that alone isn’t the source of frustration. Opportunity is. I find myself busier than I’ve ever been and loving every minute of it. So my mid week is an interruption, and I hate interruptions.

Yesterday, however, was an exception. I arrived at work without any other thing on my mind to do for the day. I was at peace. If I understood all the reasons why, I’d try harder to plan so I could live there. Since I don’t, I chose to enjoy it.

But as the day went on my peace faded. Expectations I’d held for the day didn’t come to pass and the knot of anxiety began building in my gut. Magnificent stories began crafting themselves in my mind. Great myths and legends to fill the void created by my lack of knowledge. By the way, I’m a great story teller. Sadly, that also means I’m an exceptional liar when it comes to the unknown and I couple that with expecting the worst. It’s uncomfortable to say the least.

In this state, I wasn’t prepared for the last minute rush of customers. About ten minutes to close, a family of ten and a couple others walked in the door. I cursed myself. I cursed God. Then I put on my customer service face and started helping them. In the midst of this I received a single message that turned everything around. The customers who would keep me well past close became a blessing instead of a curse. And the very thing I’d longed for might yet come to pass even at this late hour.

I was chastened. God showed me in a single moment that everything sits in the palm of His hand. He went out of his way to stack the odds beyond the realm of coincidence so I wouldn’t miss it, and I heard him loud and clear.

I see you.

I love you.

I know your longings.

Trust me.

Getting there

white-and-yellow-cars-on-road-3616659

This morning’s commute set me right in the middle of rush hour traffic. To my considerable relief I found myself in the steady lane. No stops. No sudden bursts of speed. Only a slow but consistent spin of tires on pavement. It made for a stress free ride past lanes clogged on either side. With relief came recognition. There is benefit in constancy.

That acknowledgement makes perfect sense following Friday’s frustration. All day Friday I felt the frustration of being stuck. Much of my life right now is waiting. I’ve done all I can do, and now I am waiting on others so that the journey can continue.

Yet, I also remember the thrill of the rush of activity that brought me to this place. There is a profound joy in busyness and chaos. At least when it’s in my favor, and I had a good run before traffic ground to a halt.

In the end, every one of these circumstances take us to our destination, and I’m not sure one is any better than the others. I appreciate the consistency and low stress of a steady pace, but I also find value in the highs I only find in the company of troubled lows.

I’ll do well to remember. It’s all part of getting there.

Life lessons bound in leather

20200103_1027147044774233767198769.jpg

This journal is one of my favorite Christmas gifts, and as of today I am 40% of the way through it. I felt a little sadness as the imminence of its passing crossed my mind. Soon I’ll trade it’s cloth-like paper for the smoother, modern sheets of my usual journal of choice, a Moleskine Cahier. The quote etched leather binding will give way to plain card stock, and the legal style horizontal binding transition to a more tradition vertical binding. And while that day is still a ways off, its passing is inevitable.

Today it marked a reminder that all good things must end. Yet even as I see that day approaching, I will continue to use my journal to the fullest. I will not shorten my time with it in hopes of making it last a little longer. I will not avoid it, and in using other journals keep it closer for just a bit longer. I will not put it on a shelf to admire from afar. I will not run from the inevitability of our parting.

Instead, I will continue to meet inspiration, joy, worry and sorrow within its pages. I will continue to take pleasure in the feel of the paper, the way it takes the lead of the pencil, and its unique aroma. I will enjoy it until they day comes that our time together has come to an end, and then I will, with fond memories, move on. Made better by my time with it and ready to embrace the new and the different.

Such is today’s life lesson. One found in blank pages and pencil lead. One bound in leather.

Dairy is Everywhere (and other things)

halloween-theme-cup-of-ice-cream-3151754

This past week saw the beginning of a fast from dairy. A grand experiment in pursuing a healthier and more mucus free lifestyle. And, as of today I have a perfect record of failure.

While someone, somewhere is sitting in judgment, I am laughing and preparing for my next attempt. This has been an incredible learning experience. I had no idea dairy had such a prominent place in my life. When I’ve tried to relate it to others, I tell them dairy flies under the radar. Sometimes, like this morning, it is the bedfellow of habit. “With cheese” fell so smoothly from my lips that my conscious self only became aware once the creamy melt settled onto my tongue. Most times, I am simply unaware. Having never considered it before, I know nothing of its hideaways. Cereal and lattes are easy to avoid. Yogurt and cottage cheese only slightly more troublesome. But I never saw butter chicken curry coming, and only barely dodged Tira Misu. If any lesson is to be learned, it is this – dairy is everywhere!

Or maybe there is something more. It’s been refreshing to engage in battle with something I can laugh about, and I hope it will translate to other, more sensitive places in my life because failure is a great teacher.

So I guess what I’m saying is this. Go forth and fail. Laugh at yourself and learn all you can.

Oh, and dairy is everywhere!

Moving on

Three years ago I bought a house. I believed it to be the best decision for me, and at that time it was probably true. Today, however, I am moving out of that house and preparing to sell. Time have changed, and I with them.

Preparations for today have stirred up memories like sediment in a stream, and my mucking about has only brought up more. In some ways, it was an act of desperation. I’d enjoyed exceptionally low rent for several years, but the house I’d lived in would soon sell. I had to move, and nothing on the market could match my budget. Oddly enough, here in Memphis a mortgage payment could be far less than rent, and it didn’t hurt to know I would ultimately be investing money in my own pocket rather than a landlord’s.

As for other reasons, I was seeking a more “normal” life. My life has never exactly conformed to the status quo. Sometimes I see that as an amazing gift. Others, I wonder what I’ve been doing with my life. At that point in time, I knew the life I had been living needed to change. For the me of three years ago, change meant more stability and more money. So I began pursuing a management career at Starbucks and bought a house. I know I hoped it would bring some legitimacy in the eyes of others, and maybe a wife.

You may wonder, how did that work out for me? Well… not bad. And not in any way like I planned.

For one, I never saw the money I hoped for. Turns out management is not something I’m well suited for. And the house, while quickly paid off due to an inheritance, became a time and money sink. I never had enough to make it the house I’d hoped it would become, and I realized 1,600 square feet with a front and back yard is a lot of real estate to manage for one person.

That said, these past few years it has been a gift. Paid off, it gave me the freedom to leave Starbucks, and after the chaos of my experience there I needed to leave if only for my mental health. In the interim between my sister selling her house and purchasing a new one, it provided a home for her, my niece and my nephew. And when a friend needed a new place to stay, I had an extra room for him. But most of all, this house has been part of a process of learning about the world and myself. I better understand the value of my time and mental well being. I had to learn that lesson through imbalance of a job, a life and a home.

All in all, it served its purpose and I am grateful I made the decision. But as I mentioned before, times have changed and so have I. I’ve rediscovered my long lost dream. I’ve found peace in who I am, and I am not trying so hard to match up to what others think is normal. (Note, if you happen to be looking for a life partner, it might do well to find someone as crazy as yourself.) And I am free. Free from most of the obligations of my peers. It is startling to realize I have the same freedom I did the day I first braved the world and left for college.

Thankfully, I also have a little more experience and, I hope, wisdom. And soon, once the house is sold, I will also have a fair starting point for this next stage of life.

All in all, I guess life is still life. I made the best call I could at the moment. I ran it for all it was worth, and now it’s time to move on. I don’t regret the struggle. I certainly don’t regret the blessings that shined linings of silver on sullen, grey clouds. They made me who I am, and have laid and are laying the foundation for what comes next.

& what’s next?

Well, I’ll save that for another day.

Something good

amalfi-amalfi-coast-architecture-bay-358223

“If you smash into something good, you should hold on until it’s time to let go.”

-Marcello, Under the Tuscan Sun

These words are one of several ideas to remain with me after watching Under the Tuscan Sun. To me, they represent the acceptance of a gift and the willingness to live in the present. So I felt sadness to find they were uttered as a precursor to an affair. Heavy with the weight of inevitability. All affairs must end.

At another point our lead declares her fears aloud. With tears she lays out her hopes for a home, a wedding and full rooms. Hopes she doubts she’ll ever see. And the man who is quite possibly my favorite character in the film tells her the story of a train from Vienna to the Alps, a train whose tracks were built before they had a train that could make the trip.

Finally, from the lips of a care free and enigmatic actress comes a story from her childhood. She spent the entire day searching for ladybugs. She found none. In the end, she fell asleep on the grass only to awaken covered in ladybugs.

Each of these moments is a lesson in itself. But I think each of these moments is a part of the picture that it took an entire story to paint. Juxtaposed they gain a greater meaning.

It is a gift to live in the present, to take hold of good things and hold on until it is time to let them go. But a life lived in the present without care for the future is dangerous, both to ourselves and others. It is in looking to the future that we build the foundation capable of holding and manifesting our dreams. And if we are willing to commit to the tracks, trusting in the train to come, it sets our present on a set of tracks that will lead us toward our dreams. But this too is something to be wary of. In looking too closely for one particular future – one job, one relationship, one mission, we may find that we miss it entirely. Maybe by returning to the present, even at times having fallen asleep, we will awaken to find we have found the very thing we’ve been seeking.

To be honest, this is a path I am learning to walk. It is messy, and full of as much pain and hurt as it is comfort and joy. And as much as I feared it in the past, I think it’s supposed to be that way. I’ve come to realize that I don’t regret mistakes nearly as much as I regret chances not taken. I suppose we’ll see how that turns out.

 

My ugly baby & what comes next

StockSnap_K7O1R79ESF

Tonight I gave birth to something special. As I finished out my shift, the final lines fell into place and a song was born. Now I won’t lie to myself, it’s not a pretty baby. In fact, it’s pretty ugly. But I’m proud of it. It’s got a lot of character, and I have the feeling it’s going to grow up into something amazing!

This past month has been an experience in discovering my process. First and foremost, I’ve seen the value of consistency. Every day, guitar in hand, and recorder, pen and journal in reach, I sit with whatever lyric, hook or idea I have and play until inspiration strikes. And step by baby step the music takes shape. I have come to love those baby steps. They have kept me going! And last night, my baby took a sudden leap forward as the story fell into place. The realization caught me mid verse and tears hit me, choked me up for at least one line of the third verse before I got control and continued. The struggles of a month were nearly over!

And here I sit with my ugly baby! Proud even as I know it needs a little (or a lot of) work.

So, what now?

Well, I intend to use a little trick I learned from writing stories. I’m going to set my song aside for a week and try to forget it. I’m expecting a battle. My fingers kind of like playing it, but I need fresh eyes. I need to step away so I can better see the flaws I’ve grown accustomed to and help my baby grow up. I can’t wait to see what it becomes!

In the meantime, I’ll see just how ugly the next kid’s going to be.

Some days are like this

light-black-and-white-portrait-canon-60778

I’ve been up for just over four hours as I write this post. I feel as if I’ve accomplished little despite knowing the opposite is true. Thus far in my day I’ve completed my morning pages while enjoying breakfast at Brother Juniper’s, written two haiku, made headway in the song I’m working on, spent some time studying the Psalms, and found a pair of pants that fit. The last alone stands as a feat worthy of mention. So why is it that I feel an empty desperation?

Before I begin, I must first emphasize the word “feel”. Feelings don’t always match up with reality. And today, my feelings have waged war against me. I won’t deny them. I’m done playing that kind of game. Instead I hold them up and try to learn from them. Today they tell me that I hold something so dearly I am unwilling to let it go. Should it come to pass, even for mere seconds, my entire day will be filled with a sense of fulfillment. By contrast, fear of losing it projects me into an imagined future and borrowed pain.

I know enough to recognize my enemy. I know enough to engage him. But I don’t know if I’ll win this battle where anxiety seethes just below the surface. I find myself with the Psalmist crying out, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” And with the Psalmist I remind myself to “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” It is a declaration. It also, I note, makes no promise on time of delivery.

How then, do I fight this battle in the meantime?

First, I borrow another lesson from Psalm 43. I pray, “Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me.” Lead me into the presence of God – to his ‘holy hill’, his ‘dwelling’, to ‘the altar of God’. There I will strive to lay my desire for control on the altar of sacrifice and take up my song of praise.

Next, I align my actions with my goals and my purpose. I am on a journey, and I am deeply thankful to know where I am going. No matter how I feel right now about what the future might hold, I have agency to invest in what I hope the future will hold. So I will continue to write, to play and to invest in shaping myself right now to become the man my future will require.

My goal is to end my night with the assurance that I courageously moved further into the unknown future. So long as I can see the slightest step forward my day is a victory, even if I lose the emotional battle. While I hope for deliverance or the sweet mercy of God choosing to answer my desire, I know that even if it does not come I am the better for it, having been forged in the fire and having forged my way ahead.

God’s Little Never Angels

black-and-gray-angel-statue-decor-10916.jpg

It was a little over a year ago that I first heard of Never Angels. I don’t recall the details clearly, but the man who told me about them gave clear advice.

Be careful what you say you’ll never do!

He recalled his own past and the fate changing words, “I’ll never live in (insert state name here).” It was then, he said, that God sent out his Never Angels, and he soon found himself pastor of a church is that very state.

While I don’t necessarily believe in the existence of a covert branch of the angelic realm bending fate against our will, I have come to appreciate a healthy challenge to my own “Never”s. Looking back I’ve started many sentences with “I never”. I don’t have to look far. Take last weeks declaration as an example.

“I’ll never again own an Apple product!”

But today I ate my never pie as I read reviews of the new iPhone 11. Put bluntly, for the path I intend to take in the near future it may be the best tool for the job. And it may not be, but if it is… Well, I’ll own another Apple product. Worse yet, I’ll be the better for it.

You see, Never is a dangerous word. Never is a biased word. Never is a closed word. Never refuses to look any deeper than its expectations, and I am learning to be wary of Never. I think Never might be one of my greatest enemies. He draws close and pretends to protect me while holding me back. He provides the well intentioned platitude that gets in the way of the new, of growth and of adventure. He blinds and distracts me from the tools I most need. Worst of all, he feels safe.

But I think maybe I don’t need him. I need a whole cadre of Never Angels helping me go places I never thought I would!

 

Even if it’s a bitch…

silver-colored-microphone-675960.jpg

“The melody and the chord structure comes pretty quickly, lyrics are the bitch.”

Rufus Wainwright

Over the past few days I’ve been writing. Most of the time I don’t have trouble finding words. Ask anyone who talks to me. I rarely have trouble expressing myself whether it be my journal, the occasional poem, or a story. Words come easily.

Most of the time…

Music is the same way. As with Mr. Wainwright, melody and chord structure come pretty quickly.

But “lyrics are the bitch”.

Lyrics wear me out. For me, it’s a grueling hunt. Not just for the deeper story. Not just for the right words. It’s a hunt for words. Period. Just words. It’s a slog through the back country looking for anything to put on the table (though I’m always hoping for a trophy buck).

Someone might think I’m crazy to keep it up. They might wonder why I’m doing it. Sometimes I wonder why I’m doing it. In the end, it’s because I want to. Despite the frustration, I like it enough to keep coming back day after day. I like it enough to sit in front of a blank page. I like it enough to take myself on walks because I know inspiration meets me there. And I like the results. There is a song in all that mess, and I’m going to see it when it’s done. And I hope it will inspire someone the way it inspires me. In the end, I’m an artist and this is my pen. I write with words, and I write with melody.

So I wonder, what is it that you’d come back to time and time again even if it’s a bitch? I hope you’re crazy enough to keep at it.